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How pornography is being sidelined in the fight against piracy

Posted by Julia Bourke on Thursday, Sep 14, 2017

Piracy and its enablers are posing a very real threat to the pornographic industry, but it’s a problem largely sidelined outside of the industry.

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Since pornography became digital, production studios have faced a very real threat in piracy. ‘Tube’ websites have become the consumption norm, but what most people don’t know is that these websites are usually inundated with pirated material.

Whilst porn production studios are on the brink of collapse, cutting advertising and taking to to crowdfunding large productions, the company that owns the majority of tube sites has found a way to profit from both legitimate sales and pirated content. The question is, how did porn get into such a mess?

A porn powerhouse

In 2007, German entrepreneur Fabian Thylmann envisioned an empire of online porn, functioning on a Netflix-type subscription model. He bought a number of adult websites, purchased assets of pornographic production companies and entered into a partnership with Playboy. He named his company Manwin, since renamed Mindgeek. Unfortunately, Thylmann’s vision took off before it could be monetised upon. Mainstream adult video websites became what they are now: flashy, advert-laden video indexes that today make up 12% of the internet.

The most popular of these websites are made up of user-generated content like YouTube, giving them their nickname ‘tube’ sites. Tube websites are highly profitable ventures for obvious reasons, especially when they can profit from advertising. Unfortunately, they all-too-often become saturated with illegally-uploaded copyrighted content.

This is exactly what has happened to tube sites, to devastating results. The average consumer is now so used to experiencing pornography for free that the ethics of doing so are scarcely called into question, and most do not consider that the content could be infringing.

Unfortunately, it’s industry creators and performers seeing the effects. Mindgeek’s monopoly means that it can uniquely profit from both ends: the porn giant owns many of the most popular tube websites including PornHub, RedTube and YouPorn, but also major production companies such as Brazzers and Digital Playground. Due to the power held by Mindgeek, there’s little the industry can do to support itself: there have even been reports of porn stars scared to speak out against Mindgeek for fear of being blacklisted by the company. Other production companies, despite blaming Mindgeek for abetting piracy, indicate a pressure to partner the dominant of the adult entertainment world and its internet traffic. In this way, a vicious cycle is formed.

A muted issue

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Piracy and its enablers pose a very real threat to the porn industry. Besides causing annual losses in the billions of dollars, pornographic piracy has created a very damaging expectation of consumption that drives the problem ever-deeper. As Molly Lambert notes in her article ‘Porntopia’, with porn’s online accessibility “came the assumption that porn should be accessible - that it wasn’t worth paying for”. It’s the same threat that the movie industry is trying to preempt - but unlike porn, the movie industry can turn to countless organisations to lobby for legislative changes in order to defend itself.

Many porn performers have suffered pay cuts, with the average salary of a female star reportedly now $50,000, about the same as the nationwide average. There is an increasing need, too, for stars to supply their own on-set wardrobe, do their own hair and makeup and handle any external publicity.  Many performers are now turning to other sources as revenue, including sex work.

Additionally, porn piracy and its enablers are arguably damaging content quality. Mindgeek’s monopoly promotes development homogeneously, pigeonholing the industry by pushing extremities in released content and demeaning the industry’s efforts of legitimising itself.

It’s clear that when it comes to porn piracy, the right people aren’t listening. Porn has long been regarded as the elephant in the room - although 40 million Americans admit to regularly visiting porn websites, pornographic content is blacklisted by most major payment providers, app stores and media providers. For this reason monopolising corporations like Mindgeek will continue to dominate the industry, and studios must rely on their own defense resources.

Facing the problem head-on

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As LBSU professor Shira Tarrant says in her book ‘The Pornography Industry: What Everyone Needs to Know’, whilst tube sites will comply with DMCA notices as per their legal obligation, “at the end of the day, the tube sites make more money from pirated content than trying to monetize a promotional trailer. Because of this, the tubes will never have enough incentive to totally clean up their act”.

Tube sites tend to be the focused pain point for most independent porn companies (porn star Stoya even urges fans to ‘torrent instead of tube’), but the reality is that pirated porn is rampant elsewhere too, on torrent sites, cyberlockers and whole websites dedicated to pirated adult films. Gizmodo explains that Google plays a big part in assisting porn piracy, too, as its algorithms struggle to index legit over infringing material.

In response, the industry has taken matters into its own hands. Porn is a unique industry in that individual infringers are frequently targeted by legal representatives and copyright removal services hired by production companies. Enforcement cases tend not to go to court; instead representatives solicit cash settlements, and pirates usually pay up fearing that their viewing habits could otherwise be exposed publicly.

Enforcement services, often but not always specific to the industry, send out high numbers of DMCA requests to websites illegally hosting copyrighted material. Some studios hire employees whose sole purpose is to discover and remove infringing material, searching tube sites and search engines. Unfortunately, this tends to a many-headed hydra effect; when one video is removed, two more are invariably uploaded. Manual efforts require around-the-clock monitoring, and do not work toward a durable solution.

For such a problem contained to the digital world, surely a digital response is the most appropriate solution. Red Points Anti-Piracy solution is unique in its triadic approach that combines experienced industry analysts with legal expertise to support an advanced proprietary technology, that continuously scans targeted parts of the internet, and can learn and evolve its mechanism to specific threats. Infringements are automatically and constantly detected and removed, and reports delivered to clients through an interactive web dashboard. The technology and largely automated process maximises efficiency to deliver a long-term solution in limiting availability of pirated content, with the hope of finishing piracy off for good.

To learn more about the threat your content may be facing online, take advantage of our free audit, that delivers a report detailing your level of risk.

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About the author

Julia Bourke

Post Written by Julia Bourke

Focusing on emerging trends and industry news, Julia works as a content writer and data journalist for Red Points.